By cracking down on dissident lawmakers and stripping them of committee assignments, Gov. Bobby Jindal is actually freeing them to publicly question his priorities.
By Jeremy Alford
Gisclair’s seat mate on the House floor is Rep. Harold Ritchie, D-Bogalusa, who lost his position as vice chairman of the House Insurance Committee. It was on a Tuesday that Ritchie voted against a Jindal-backed bill that creates a tax rebate for donations to nonprofits that support grants or scholarships for private schools.
By Wednesday, House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, had removed him from the insurance committee. Kleckley assumed the speakership after securing Jindal’s support. “It’s hard to describe the intimidation the governor tries to exert on the Legislature,” Gisclair says. “But it’s there.”
It certainly is. Without a doubt. But there is an upside. Once Jindal & Co. beat a lawmaker down, there’s no way to go but up. Just ask Rep. Dee Richard, a Thibodaux independent who believes Jindal should open up more records from his office to public view, reduce state consulting contracts and cut the public workforce.
Richard spent the past few years offering up policy alternatives to Jindal’s agendas, many of which were supported by lawmakers but never by the governor. As a result, during his first term alone, Richard racked up four vetoes from Jindal.
This year he has House Bill 291, which would place Jindal’s office in the same category as all other state agencies in regard to public records. Under current law, many documents used in the “usual course of duties and business” in Jindal’s office, including intra-office communications, are allowed to remain secret.
Richard’s legislation does provide for a seven-day wait before records of confidential meetings can be released and another 10-year waiting period before all other protected documents can be accessed. “I don’t want the law to be too tight,” Richard says. “I don’t think this is the final version of the bill; I’m willing to work on it. But I think there are a lot of public records that need to be opened up. I do believe there are some things that could be brought out for the public that would help us deliberate on the budget.”
Richard is also pushing House Bill 328, which outlines a plan for trimming government consulting contracts. The plan, first floated by state Treasurer John Kennedy as a member of the now-defunct Commission on Streamlining Government, calls for a 10 percent reduction in professional, personal, consulting and social services contracts under the jurisdiction of the Division of Administration’s Office of Contractual Review.
Kennedy and Richard fought for passage last year and found support from the full House before a Senate committee blocked the proposal. In an earlier interview, Kennedy said he would support the bill during this year’s regular session, and Richard says he expects the treasurer to testify on its behalf.
|“It’s hard to describe the intimidation the governor tries to exert on the Legislature, But it’s there.”
—Rep. Truck Gisclair, D-Raceland.
In opposing the legislation last year, the Jindal administration described the plan as “overly broad.”
Kennedy and Richard have likewise refiled House Bill 327, which would eliminate 15,000 jobs from the executive branch over a three-year period. Jindal’s administration complained last year that the plan would have jeopardized jobs in veterans affairs and corrections.
And just like Richard’s other streamlining legislation, it was approved by the House in 2011 but ran into opposition in the Senate. “I thought it would be a good idea to bring them back,” Richard says of his streamlining bills. “We do have a different Legislature now with several new members.”
Of course, by “new,” Richard means freshmen. But the definition should also include folks like Ritchie who certainly have a new outlook on Louisiana politics — and Jindal.
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